WAVERLY — Ethan and EmmaGrace Putz felt anxious when they arrived early Saturday at the Waverly Municipal Airport.
The Waterloo siblings were about to take their first airplane ride as part of the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 227’s Young Eagles program.
“I feel kind of nervous because I don’t know how this is going to go,” admitted EmmaGrace, 10. “I’ve never flown in anything before.”
Twelve-year-old Ethan said he was “halfway excited, halfway nervous” as he gazed across the taxiway at the eight single-engine aircraft and their volunteer pilots who would wind up providing free flights to more than 70 kids ages 8 through 17.
A few minutes later EmmaGrace and Ethan were airborne, circling over parts of Bremer and Black Hawk counties.
John Dutcher of Cedar Falls is one of eight pilots who volunteered their time, skills and aircraft for the free 20-minute rides. He also serves as the Young Eagles coordinator for the EAA’s Jonathan Livingston Chapter based in Waterloo.
“For kids, it may be the first time they’ve every been on an airplane ride,” Dutcher said. “They’re going to remember it their entire life.
“Every time they look up in the sky and see an airplane, they’ll remember their first airplane ride,” he added. “It’s fun for us to give kids that opportunity.”
Dutcher, who piloted Suzie Too, his single-engine Cessna 172N, said the national EAA organization has given free rides to more than 2.2 million youths since the Young Eagles program began in 1992.
EmmaGrace Putz wore a huge smile as she bounded back across the runway after her flight.
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“I was a little scared at first but then we took off,” she said. “When we were leaning I felt a little more comfortable. I don’t know why.”
Pilot John Peacock let her take the controls of the single-engine experimental Mustang II he built in his Cedar Falls basement.
“She was flying the plane nicely,” Peacock said. “Kids love it. They take the controls, they find the artificial horizon, and then it’s just like they’re on the computer.”
Ethan landed a few minutes later in pilot Warren Brecheisen’s RV-6 plane.
“It wasn’t scary,” Ethan said. “I just had never flow before, so I was worried about what might happen. He let me control it right when we were over Walmart, and then I turned us over Janesville.”
Mallory and Norah Bradley, ages 13 and 9 respectively, had a connection with their pilot, Dave Hummel. The sisters from Clinton learned their grandfather Larry Wildeboer had been Hummel’s flight instructor.
The girls loved the view they got on the trip.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” Mallory said. “Each house looked like a mini dollhouse to me. The baseball diamonds looked really tiny too.”
More information about the Young Eagles program can be found on the EEA’s website at www.eaa227.com. Similar free flight days are scheduled for Aug. 24 at the Oelwein Municipal Airport and Sept. 7 at the Waterloo Regional Airport.